At the end of 2019, the White House announced the development of a Federal Data Strategy to fully “leverage the value of federal data for mission, service, and the public good.” To be sure, it’s an ambitious goal given just how much data federal agencies already have and are capable of generating each day. However, with the Federal Data Strategy in place, and all CFO agencies now required to have a chief data officer, the opportunities for agencies to not just pay lip service but to deliver tangible success across the federal government are here.
According to John West, Managing Director of Defense and National Security at Verizon, who met recently with a group of federal chief data officers (CDO), agencies are starting from a strong position. “As you’d expect, our federal CDOs are highly data literate and are able to articulate the value of data to the mission,” he shared. “They understand where the risk is and the legal issues are with data, which creates a solid foundation for launching their agency’s vital data-driven work.”
However, West noted that while there’s clarity at the top, there needs to be an investment in the current federal workforce to drive data literacy and ensure data quality. “With no end in sight to the shortage of data scientists, agencies need to be able to turn every worker into a data scientist by providing them with access to high quality data that can be easily – but securely – shared and applied,” he said. “In order to do this agencies should evaluate their networks in terms of security and also understand how data flows through the network to ensure that their IT foundations can support not only the data, but most importantly the people who are working with it and applying it to mission critical activities.”
So do agencies need to find additional funds in their already limited budgets in order to become data-driven? Not necessarily, according to West “There’s often a rush to invest in emerging technology or to be on the cutting edge of innovation,” he shared. “But what we’ve seen time and again during the federal government’s IT modernization journey is that taking a measured approach where you evaluate what is already at hand and see how it can be applied to support a new endeavor.” West continued, “most recently, we’ve seen this with the rush to embrace artificial intelligence and machine learning. Agencies jumped in quickly in terms of investments only to find that they were hamstrung in delivering results not only because data was stuck in silos, but also because they had poor quality data that wasn’t suitable for training algorithms, but had also not identified viable, or meaningful, use cases.”
But with that lesson behind them, CDOs are well-prepared to put the vast repositories of data held by federal agencies to work. “When you invest in a data strategy – whether that’s an investment of time in improving data quality and identifying use cases, or an investment in a network that is secure and facilitates collaboration – you’re building not only the agency of the future, but the future of the country,” he concluded.